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Organizational Story Writing: Defining a Clear Purpose and a Powerful Message

This post is the fourth in a series on organizational story writing:

Each of these posts includes links out to other helpful resources and tools that can enable you to replicate the work on your own. If you’re reading along and want to talk things through, feel free to connect with me in the comments or through email. We can chat more. 


 

 

 

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As I mentioned in my last post, the first phase of organizational story writing includes a great deal of pre-writing work, including the completion of a listening session.

Here, coaches listen quietly as writers tell their stories from start to finish. They ask clarifying questions and document important details as well, often by hand inside of notebooks or sketchbooks. Once this linear version of the story has been told, the next step involves breaking that trusty narrative into bits that can be moved around and mixed together.

 

Most stories are incredibly complex. There are many messages that we could convey, many pathways that we could lead our listeners down, and many purposes that we could achieve. As we begin experimenting with the details of any single story, quite a few of my clients begin to realize hat they have multiple stories to tell and that different audiences might benefit from hearing some more than others.

Prioritizing our purposes and defining our audiences is an important next step. 

For instance, Jackie has a tremendous personal story to tell about her experiences as a grass-roots environmentalist, the founder of a not for profit, and the leader of a team that held a massive corporation accountable for their crimes. This work wasn’t without risk or pain, and she’s learned much that might inspire others who are wrestling with similar realities.

That isn’t the story that her current audience, comprised of concerned community members, needs to hear most right now, though. Right now, her audience needs to know how the findings from her study might be impacting their health, how to get their soil tested, and how to get the ongoing support that they might need to navigate the challenges that lie ahead.

Considering this helped us define a clear purpose for our work. This helped us think about messaging.

How will you know if your story is accomplishing what you intended it to?

In the field of education, we rely on a backwards design model that challenges teachers to begin any module of instruction with the end in mind. Organizational story writers benefit from using the same approach. What do you want your audience to think or feel or do as a result of having heard your story? Your answers will guide your next steps.

Jackie wants her audiences to support her organization’s efforts to complete critical environmental testing inside of their community. If her story accomplishes what she intends it to, rates of volunteerism will increase and those who attend her forums will sign up to have their soil tested.

Defining the outcome of successful story writing helps writers draft, craft, and pivot accordingly.

Messaging matters, too.

In the photo above, Jackie is reviewing every detail from the story that she told me in order to pull on those that best support her message. We created an anchor card for each message she intended to communicate, and then she moved the details of her story around a bit, selecting those that supported each message best and aligning them under the appropriate cards.

For example, one of the most important messages that Jackie hopes to communicate is the fact that her audiences members aren’t alone in their fear or in their potential to make a very important difference in their community. She wants them to know that there is hope and that they aren’t alone. This message was recorded on the blue anchor card in the photo below. Next, she examined all of the remaining details of her greater story—scattered across the table on all of those other note cards—in order to find the ones that would support her message best. She removed them from the greater collection and lined them up below the anchor card that carried her message.

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Let your ideas percolate.

After Jackie finished defining all of the messages she wanted her story to convey and pulling all of the critical details into line below those anchor cards, she started talking about plot structure. I encouraged her to take a purposeful pause at this point in our work, and I will invite you to do the same.

It’s important to allow our ideas to percolate.

It’s also important to take a step back when we’re working so closely with the content of a project.

Rest might slow the work a bit, but in my experience, rest also grows the work much better than rushing ever does.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my final post in this series. It’s all about structuring our stories with intention–the final phase of the organizational story pre-writing process.

 

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